‘The need for advertising to deliver sharp business results will be more pronounced’

Govind Pandey, CEO, TBWA India, tells us how these times of adversity have transformed the creative process, the experience of pitching during lockdown, the agency’s work and more

e4m by Srabana Lahiri
Updated: Jun 27, 2020 12:22 PM
Govind Pandey

Govind Pandey, CEO, TBWA India, believes that good advertising always delivers results, but in the next 3-6 months, the emphasis on the need for advertising to deliver sharp business results will be more pronounced.

 Commenting on how these times of adversity have transformed the creative process, he says there is a growing need to get the ball rolling quickly for both clients and agencies, at least for the next two quarters.

 Excerpts:

 Tell us how TBWA has been functioning during the lockdown. Have you been busier or has it affected productivity?

I have ended up meeting a lot of friends and people I have not met for a while. At TBWA, it took us the first couple of weeks to understand how to cope with it, now we've figured a way to conduct most of our business on calls. People are seeing a lot more positives to working like this, with more discipline, sanctity and respect for each other’s time. 

 You have been pitching. What is your experience of pitching during the lockdown?

It's sort of new for all of us. In the first 2-3 weeks of the lockdown, there was a bit of uncertainty, but now everything is happening regularly and frequently. There are meetings, get-togethers and pitch presentations with clients. It takes a certain amount of effort from everyone, but focus is on essentials and on clarifying the actual problems which are to be solved. It's been good fun and I'm enjoying these pitches too. They have a different way of unfolding, but have brought good quality conversations with clients asking all the right questions. COVID-19 has thrown all the existing plans away and clients are activating Plan B and Plan C and are also open to ideas. By and large, the whole business has found a rhythm where most things are happening as they were, except for the human connect, which has definitely suffered, although people have found different ways of connection. We won one pitch and you'll hear about it soon. There is a definitiveness to these pitches, with a clear job to be done. 

 Tell us about the campaigns done by TBWA of late – JSW Paints, Linen Club, Stanchart, Nissan - what are some insights and stories that you can tell from there?  

The process of creating work in these times itself is an interesting process and has a bearing on the kind of ideas. That becomes an important factor, but the first phase of response is crucial for an advertiser, followed by the second phase of revival and the last phase of recovery. JSW was an interesting experience and is still in its nascent stage – it’s being launched in only some markets of the South. The brand felt extremely contextual for the times we're living in and we used that contextually to extend the idea of home as a planet. The campaign was Planet Home and it emphasized how we can create a home for everyone if we’re less selfish and more considerate. It received a good response and was like a millennial voice for JSW. Similarly for Linen Club, we did the ‘Men of Lockdown’ campaign. There's been a bit of blurring of boundaries between what men and women do. People have found a natural way to collaborate and help each other. In case of Standard Chartered, the fact that we can do anytime banking, was the idea. For Nissan, the idea was that we are locked down and you should stay safe. We did an interesting take on traffic rules even while staying at home and it was somewhere awarded as the ‘Best Auto campaign’ in this period. It's been good fun and we've been busy doing a lot of work.

 With people inclined to spend less going forward, do you think advertising will have to work doubly hard to get results for marketers? What is your view? What are marketers saying just now?

A lot of clients, barring a few sectors like FMCG, have had very low business in the last few months and therefore the conversation is more around 'how to get back on your feet, activate demand and get things moving.’ There is a slight long-range problem solving and thinking that agencies are usually a part of, so my sense is that in this period the questions are more immediate and there's a need to get things going quickly for now and for the next two quarters. The business questions and problems are acute and serious and as partners to our clients, we are trying to solve a lot of those questions. Good advertising always delivers results but in the next 3-6 months, the emphasis on impact of advertising to create sharp business results will be far more. Given the nature of the Indian market and demography, people are itching to get back and a lot of clients will push for a good Diwali and around that time, hopefully, things will settle down with normalized economic activity. Giving a push to consumption will be a critical phase. That is more Q3 but there will be action to have a good last quarter of the calendar year.

 You actually launched a Corporate Culture Consulting for CEOs and founders last month, to help people transition to the virtual way of working. What has been the uptake? Can you talk about it? 

It's a corporate culture consulting where essentially we emphasize on how you leverage your culture into achieving business results, focusing on the importance of culture and employee engagement. It's easy to focus on strategy, since culture just normally happens, and the fact that it needs to be actively shaped is something that came to light in this period when we were not sharing the same physical spaces and everything was virtually followed by a lot of anxiety. It’s a product on which we’ve worked for 2-3 clients in the last year and when some of these questions started coming up, CEOs realised that these questions were actually to be dealt with. People and the quality of engagement will be a critical factor in the way that we deal with this entire lockdown. It's a strong product for these times and even for normal times, towards ‘how to get people aligned for the common goal of the organisation'. 

 How do you see the post-COVID workplace evolving in your organisation and elsewhere?

There will be lot more flexibility in the way that we look at work and people and the workplace. I'm of the school that we will always need a workplace but some corporates have let go of office space, with all kinds of models that are emerging. My feeling is that what is essential to the agency, what are the core people we need, and who are the kinds of people who prefer to work from home with flexible hours with comfort will increase and the acceptance of that by corporates will increase. The physical workplace will always be there and our need to socialise and come together will not disappear, but there will be a lot more openness to experiment. 

 What will it take for the media and advertising industry to come back to normal? What are the three suggestions you would like to make for the industry to get back on track?

What this entire phase did is actually accelerate what the industry was already going through, with the changes the industry needed anyway. In my mind the three key things are: A lot of expertise that resides within the agency has been created into off the shelf products. We will probably be more productized. We need to be clear about what we make. The digital prioritization and integration of digital way of consuming - Digital first campaigns and marketing will probably be adopted far more significantly. Thirdly, the whole performance and business dimension of how to do top-of-the-funnel business advertising and performance marketing where we will convert better will get far more impetus in the coming times. There are some parts of our business, which will never change, and some parts that have got accelerated, we just need to ensure that we can deal with the client’s questions and needs better. It's really a function of balancing the good old creative thinking with new skills that we will need to do the job better.

 Finally, tell us about your personal experience of the lockdown, and what practices of this time you are likely to carry forward. 

The boundaries between work and home have blurred but we're still in a work mode. Initially, it was a bit difficult to structure our own time, work and family time. However, over a period of time, I have become far more disciplined. TBWA is a global network with different hours of work and calls happening at a specific period. In the last one year, I have not found the time to even exercise but now I do and I hope to continue even post the lockdown. I can even help out at home with a few chores and I'll be a more active participant in the household activities as I enjoy them. The quality time that we land up spending with each other has been forced due to the situation, but it has been good fun. This time has made me focus on what's essential and give that the right amount of effort, intention and time.

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